In 2011, when Forbes released its list of highest paid models in the world, there were reports in India which wondered about why no desi faces had made it to the list (either for men or women).
The top models in the world — at the time the lead rankings were filled by Gisele Bündchen, Heidi Klum, Kate Moss and a couple others — had a combined income of around $100 million.
Cut to 2016, and Forbes’ latest list of the models who are paid most around the world, and there are quite a few similarities: Bündchen is still on top, with earnings that total up to an impressive $30 million. There’s still no Indian model on the list.
Of course, Bündchen and her fellow models on that list — Adriana Lima, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss et al — enjoy the kind of global supermodel status that no Indian model at present can lay claim to.
There are Indian names who’ve made it big on the international runways — back in the 1970s and 80s, there were Anjali Mendes (who found fame as Pierre Cardin’s muse) and Shaymoli Varma (another Cardin model, in addition to being the face of Lakme). Since then, there have been sporadic stars: Ujjwala Raut, acknowledged as India’s first global supermodel, Lakshmi Menon, and for a while, Vidisha Pavate and Meghna Reddy. Smita Lasrado made waves when she walked for Chanel two years ago; in addition, she’s worked with designers like Vivienne Westwood.
Leaving aside the global scene and focusing only on the domestic stage, the era of the ‘supermodel’ is considered long past here. Few models today can say that they enjoy the kind of fame and recognition that a Madhu Sapre did. The Femina Miss India contest — once the platform from where the ‘next top model’ would emerge — has become for most, a stepping stone into Bollywood. This is true not just for Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, but also Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra, Dia Mirza, Yukta Mookhey, Diana Hayden, Celina Jaitley, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Mugdha Godse. (Rare are former Miss India winners who’ve chosen to continue with modelling long-term – Dayana Erappa, Kanishtha Dhankar, for instance, and Manasvi Mamgai, until she made her film debut with Action Jackson in 2014.)
Models who didn’t go the traditional beauty pageant route but enjoyed a certain degree of fame on the ramp also chose to move on to films — this includes names like Deepika Padukone, Kriti Sanon, Diana Penty, Angela Jonsson and Lisa Haydon.
[A note here: These former models are earning far more as actors than they would have in modeling, and enjoying far greater fame, so it isn’t a surprise that they would choose to make the shift, quite apart from the creative lure of acting versus modelling. There's also the fact that in India, Bollywood stars and cricketers get the plum brand endorsement deals that a supermodel in another place might have been considered for.]
Other well-known ramp faces made the shift to being presenters on television or taking up reality shows: Nina Manuel and Diandra Soares come to mind.
There are successful models who’ve stayed (primarily) models: Noyonika Chatterjee, Sheetal Mallar, Nethra Raghuraman, and after them, Carol Gracias, Lisa Haydon, Indrani Dasgupta, Jyothsna Chakravarthy. Jesse Randhawa, Alesia Raut, Candice Pinto and Deepti Gujral continue to be popular faces on the ramp, first and foremost. (By which we mean that while they may have taken up the occasional acting gig, it is as models that they are known.) Archana Akhil Kumar is among the younger models to have quickly become a ramp favourite.
Despite the far greater remuneration offered in acting, these top models don’t do so badly for themselves. While no one is willing to talk money very openly, a 2011 Times of India report garnered opinions from talent management agencies, fashion photographers and choreographers to come up with an estimated figure.
It pegged the earnings for the leading models at around Rs 45,000 per show, at Rs 30,000-40,000 for the next rung of talent, and for emerging models, it could drop sharply to just around Rs 8,000-10,000. For print campaigns, fees for top Indian (women) models were pegged at around Rs 9 lakh and for television ads, around Rs 3 lakh. The report further quoted Sushma Puri, the CEO of Elite Model Management, as saying that a model like Lisa Haydon might command up to Rs 2 lakh a day for a photo shoot.
In the years since, those numbers are only likely to have appreciated, and it’s fair to assume that five year down the line, top models are charging no less than Rs 50,000 for a ramp show. A 2013 PTI report (published in DNA) stated that with the emergence of several fashion weeks in India, a top model might earn anything between Rs 30-40 lakh, while for newer talents, this would be around Rs 7-8 lakh.
Now these earnings are for the women — male models earn considerably lower. The modelling industry is the only one where the gender pay gap is skewed in favour of women, and considerably so. A Forbes story in 2013 contrasted the earnings of top male models in the world (around $ 8 million) with that of the women (around $ 83 million), and quoting a Payscale report, found that the women out-earned the men by around 148 percent! In India, the divergence in pay scales is not as shocking — top male models earn around Rs 30,000 per show, aspiring models would get around Rs 5,000-6,000.
The male models today can also claim to have far fewer recognisable faces than the women — where once you had supermodels like Milind Soman, Arjun Rampal or John Abraham, now there are fewer true ‘stars’ —Sahil Shroff, Freddy Daruwala (both of whom have tried to make the shift to the screen; Daruwala was most recently in the Akshay Kumar film Holiday), Acquin Pais, Namit Khanna or a Tony Luke.
They may not be making it to the top earning models’ list for now, but the fact remains that remuneration norms in the fashion industry have not just regularised, they’ve also increased. For instance, when Shyamoli Varma got her three-year contract to be the brand ambassador for Lakme, she was paid a total of Rs 30,000. An international ramp show would net her the princely sum of Rs 500. By the time Ujjwala Raut stormed the runways of Paris and New York in 2002, she was reportedly pulling in over £10,000 a day (this is as per quotes in The Daily Mail from her estranged husband Maxwell Sterry). An Outlook magazine feature pegged Ujjwala’s earnings for 2003 at a little over Rs 9 crore. In 2004, when the Ford Models’ Super Model of the World contest was meant to be revived in India, the prize money for the winner (it was a three-year contract) was set at little over Rs 1 crore.
Clearly, the trend in earnings — for both male and female models — is an upward one. But it’ll be a while yet before they breach the rarefied atmosphere that Bündchen and her peers occupy.